Seven planes carrying US weapons for Ukraine will be heading to Europe in the next 24 hours, a senior United States defence official has said, as several Western leaders pledged more military support for Ukraine against a Russian offensive in the east.
The weapons are part of an $800m weapons package that the Biden administration authorised last week and that includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters.
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“None of these shipments sits around very long,” said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by the Pentagon, as reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.
Kyiv has called for additional weapons and support to stave off Moscow’s new offensive in the eastern Donbas region, where Russian forces have been amassing after their withdrawal from the Ukrainian capital area.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “the battle for Donbas” began on Monday, as Russian attacks in the region escalated, and promised that Ukraine would put up fierce resistance to Russia’s push there.
In a response to the intensified assault, US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders on Tuesday discussed increasing military, economic and humanitarian support for the Ukrainian government, and ways to hold Moscow accountable, the White House said.
Biden consulted with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, among others.
The purpose of the call was “to discuss our continued support for Ukraine and efforts to hold Russia accountable as part of our close coordination”, the White House said.
Scholz later said Germany intended to supply Ukraine with anti-tank and air defence weapons, as well as long-range artillery weapons, while the UK’s Johnson also promised more artillery weapons as the conflict moved into a new phase.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Canada would be sending heavy artillery and promised to provide more details.
Meanwhile, Biden, when asked by reporters if he planned to supply Ukraine with more artillery, said he would do so. “We will continue to provide them more ammunition, as we will provide them more military assistance,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said.
It was unclear if those comments referred to the already announced $800m weapons package.
“I don’t have any future packages or shipments to speak to today,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters later on Tuesday afternoon.
Kirby said it was “certainly” possible that Ukraine will want additional artillery systems in the future, however, and he said Washington would discuss such a request whenever it may be made.
“You don’t want to flow everything you got, the whole kitchen sink, in there – and then have them have nowhere to put [the systems], nowhere to store them temporarily, nowhere to move them to,” Kirby said. “You have to do this smartly, and that means doing it in chunks and phases, based on what their needs are in the moment.”
Mark Kimmitt, a former deputy director of plans and strategy at US Central Command, said the $800m weapons package includes some valuable equipment, “but the numbers of pieces of equipment … barely [keep] up with what has been lost by the Ukrainians up until this point.”
It includes 18 155mm howitzer cannons for the first time, as well as 40,000 artillery rounds, 200 M113 armoured personnel carriers, 11 Mi-17 helicopters and 100 armoured multi-purpose vehicles. Washington is expected to train Ukrainians on the howitzers in the coming days.
“But there are no magic bullets in that aid package and candidly, with this [eastern] offensive coming up, I wouldn’t want to say, ‘It’s too little, too late’ … but it won’t make a significant difference on this upcoming battle,” Kimmitt told Al Jazeera.
Russia said on Tuesday that it had begun “another phase” of its invasion of Ukraine, which was launched in late February and has forced millions of people to flee the country amid heavy bombardments and shelling.
The Russian defence ministry said that “high-precision air-based missiles” had hit 13 Ukrainian positions in parts of the Donbas while other air raids “hit 60 military assets”, including in towns close to the eastern front line.
Russian forces also appeared to seize their first city in the region, Kreminna, after Ukrainian troops withdrew.
“Another phase of this operation is beginning and I am sure it will be a very important moment in this entire special operation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during an interview broadcast by the India Today TV channel.
Moscow had warned Washington last week against supplying further weapons to Kyiv, saying in a diplomatic note that US and NATO shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine could bring “unpredictable consequences”.